Review: Among the Sleep (PS4)

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Title: Among the Sleep
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3.78 GB)
Release Date: December 8, 2015
Publisher: Krillbite Studios
Developer: Krillbite Studios
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
Among the Sleep is also available on Xbox One, PC, and Mac.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

My first remembered dream was sepia tone. I was sleeping in my brother Chris’s room since he had gone off to South Korea during Vietnam and it had become my room. The bed was a hand-me-down from my maternal grandmother, Nellie.

In the dream I was being chased around the kitchen by a vampire with rotting teeth who wore black dress pants and a white dress shirt. He towered over me as I ran around and under the kitchen table.

It is with this kind of personal history that I came to request the review of Among the Sleep; a first-person perspective video game where the player inhabits a two-year-old having an apparent nightmare.

Cheap therapy? Perhaps.

… hit Options to cover your eyes …
Gameplay:
I WANT MORE CAAAAAKE! How much did I have?! One measly spoonful. Mom, that’s not fair. You CONTROL my cake intake! I am two. That’s a pretty birthday gift but CAAAAAAKE!!! This diaper ain’t gonna fill itself!

The controls seem floaty and imprecise but that might be due to the fact that a two-year old is not equipped with much of a grasp of movement or even control of their own body. These controls are specifically unfamiliar and different from all other PS4 games. They are similar to PC controls and yet different even from those games.

You move a reticle over an object, like the abacus in the first scene, and when the hand icon appears you move the object with the thumb stick although the hand icon never moves.

The Options button has been repurposed as an active play button in some cases. When scared or for other reasons you may hit Options to cover your eyes but that does not always mean the game has stopped running. Like Bloodborne, quite oddly.

Sometimes when you randomly hit the Options button to close your eyes, you might find a surprise when you open them again. What do they mean, these surprises? Are they collectibles? Will I tell you? Don’t you know me any better’n that?

Also like Bloodborne there are few hints about what some things mean. For instance, just because you see a lock symbol does not mean you have to find a key. It just means that what you would like to access is currently unavailable.

Indeed some things may only have a lock on them because you haven’t discovered the story element to progress. If you find these locks in the wrong order and do not realize it, you could spend a lot of time backtracking in search of something which doesn’t exist.

It doesn’t happen often after you realize what it is you need to do in the first instance and I am tempted to just tell you here, but that would cheat you of making the discovery on your own.

As an adult, knowing we are seeing the world through the perceptions of a toddler, I was not scared in the least. In the beginning.

The game saves automatically but don’t assume you’ll start where you left off if you quit out of the game for dinner. You probably will not. Suspending the game is your real and true friend.

PRO TIP
About saving: Make sure to finish a whole section of the game before quitting. Do NOT take for granted that your gameplay will be saved even if you complete an entire area of a section of the game and the game shows the “saving…” animation.

It very well may not resume play where you left off when you come back but instead make you play the WHOLE section over again from the “tuba drop”. You will come to a section with tree roots, different rooms and portraits branching from a kind of hub.

Even if you finish two areas and quit the game, when you return you will find everything in the hub is just as it was when first you encountered it. You have to replay all the areas.

The saving grace is that the areas aren’t that large so if you play them once it is not that difficult to do it again pretty quickly. It is, however, an annoyance and completely unnecessary in terms of game design.

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The game’s creepiness is infectious. If you were like I was as a small pre-schooler, you could climb way up onto appliances and into areas your parents never imagined possible. It’s how I got drunk on delicious Vick’s brand cough syrup while my mother was showering.

“Mommy? Can I have this?!”, tiny Keith yelled to his mother in the bathroom some 50 years ago.

“Sure Keithie”, my mommy yelled back from the bathroom, thinking I meant the glass of orange juice on the kitchen table.

She returned to the kitchen about five minutes later to find I had pulled a chair over to the refrigerator and gotten the cough syrup off the top and guzzled the whole bottle! Poor Opal. She panicked and called Dr. Bob, our family physician who told her I’d be fine, if a little sleepy. Back in those days medicines like that, even for children, contained a percent of alcohol!

… its toddler impressions ring very true …
I recall this story for you, gentle reader, only to say that even as a cough-syrupy-drunken three-year-old I never hallucinated the things in this crazy game. I thank my early brain and my upbringing for that.

But that snaggle-toothed vampire? And the shadows and the dreams of Men In Black stealing me through the bathroom window and the aliens and the shadow of Cap’n Crunch on my bedroom wall come from no one knows what reason…. from the time I was a small kid I have often slept with my head covered in the blankets with only my face showing. Sometimes I still do.

I don’t know what it means but I suddenly suspect that I am not the only person who had these weird experiences as a child. Either that or these mad Norwegians at Krillbite actually were the Men In Black I dreamt of in 1967.

Tangential for a game review but that’s because so much of this game and its toddler impressions ring very true. When our young brains are forming, by virtue of evolution and the survival instinct, we are terrified of many things. If we weren’t scared out of our wits as helpless “cubs” the human race would never have made it, pink-on-the-inside and helpless as we are at that age.

There are transitions to various areas you come upon like a light in a closet perhaps. The game does a good job of indicating things and areas to investigate. Just be curious like a tiny Keith who gets into and on top of everything.

There is a lean right or left control to peek around corners but know that it only works while standing, not crawling. Also you can not lean while hugging Teddy. Hugging Teddy effectively makes your immediate area brighter so you can see better in the dark. That is, if you’ve set-up the gamma correctly.

I recommend setting it a little bit brighter than recommended, because if you don’t there will be some things you just won’t see at all. But don’t go all “scaredy-cat” bright because hugging your Teddy will have no attributable effect which is certainly part of the adventure and how the game is meant to be played.

Criminy! This game will take you to places as obscure as an “Amazon tuba link” showing-up in a video game review! I hope there are no minecarts because if there are I have to rate this game a 10! Just kidding! No. I’m not.

Yes. I am.

Am I?

Read on.

Teddy is afraid of everything, apparently. I want to name him something appropriate but that’s not part of the game so it would need to be unofficial. I shall call him Gop. Gop Teddy. It’s the sound I imagine he makes when he’s SCARED. You can name YOUR Teddy too! Anything you like! What will YOUR Teddy’s name be?

You can play with or without a reticle. I used the reticle for a while but eventually decided to turn it off because if there is anything with which you can interact, the hand icon appears. Also, the reticle is dead center of the screen so once you know where it is, its presence is redundant. It just muddies-up your screenshots, share videos and streaming.

… terrifying and invigorating …
Visuals:
The game looks great and runs without any hiccups. The art design is both comforting and unsettling in the same way Wonka’s chocolate factory tends to turn children blue while infusing them with blueberry juice or flushing them into pipes! It’s terrifying and invigorating.

There are some structures which are a cross between Terry Gilliam’s ducts from the film Brazil (HEY EDITOR: You may wanna add an Amazon link to Brazil here) (HEY REVIEWER: Done) and the inside of a tuba! (HEY EDITOR: Amazon ALSO sells TUBAS! I thought putting a link to tubas on Amazon would be funny.) (HEY REVIEWER: Great minds…)

I am crazy. We all accept that but… does this view up the pipe make anyone else think of the birth canal? You only see it if you turn around and look back to where from you’ve come.

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Which begs the question, “WHAT IS THIS GAME ABOUT?!?!?!”

There is a very theatrical melding of design ideas which brings the indoors out. Or is it the outdoors in? There is certainly a woodland motif in the visual presentation. I haven’t figured out what it means but I am intrigued enough to wonder.

I haven’t spoken at length about the gameplay for Among The Sleep because I want you to discover the surprises and the unexpected for yourselves. I have streamed the game twice for TGISunday which seems to belie this statement.

It does not do so because those who eschew spoilers wouldn’t be inclined to view a stream of any game they didn’t want spoiled. Those very curious souls who would like to see my gameplay can always do so on our PS Nation YouTube channel.

Those who prefer to encounter their video games with the least amount of spoilery badness can stop at this review and see everything fresh for themselves. Another reason I substitute my own toddler memories for those in Among The Sleep.

… play with a Commentary Track …
Audio:
The audio and surround sound work well to establish and maintain the atmosphere.

Seams do show though when one turns from the game at a critical moment to type notes at a time a gamer would likely NEVER turn away without pausing the game. This is in no way a fault of the developer but certainly an idiosyncratic thing that is all me.

The sound loop is clearly far longer than it needs to be, but a music cue and a cue of the sound of a room filled with children playing which stops abruptly and then restarts… because I tortured it to. Pausing at this moment removes the sound altogether because the game is paused. And no, I won’t tell where this happened because it’s silly to do such and thus. Much like it’s silly to write this paragraph.

The game also allows you to play with a Commentary Track. That is great! But do not play your first playthrough with commentary. But if you do… Krillbite Studios has done an ingenious thing. They have encapsulated the commentary tracks within these kind of boom-box bubbles within the levels. You can play with commentary unheard until you reach up and grab the floating indicators of commentary. Very well done indeed!

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

… more impressed with this game …
Conclusion:
Among The Sleep has adventure elements and puzzle elements and spooky elements. It’s like a first person periodic table of gaming.

I was not only unimpressed when I began playing Among the Sleep but I found it clumsy and stupid. An attempt to use the gimmick of playing as a toddler for cheap scares. That is what I thought when I knew nothing about the game and started playing.

The deeper I went, the more impressed with this game I became. The art style, sound design, and gameplay work beautifully together. The toddler idea brings so much innocence, and thus meaning, to the proceedings apart from being some newfangled trope.

I have every expectation that we will NOT be seeing a spike in toddlers as gameplay moving forward. That would be too obvious a ripoff.

Then again, how many mobile gem games are there?

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Keith Dunn-Fernández

Keith Dunn-Fernández

An actor/director and more lucratively an Administrative Assistant at a small paper company in NYC, Keith loves his games. And he loves to write. And he is a bit of a sarcasmo.

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